At first glance, the Sweetest Day appears to be the brainchild of a company like Russell Stover Candies or Hershey Chocolate. The connection to the first ever Sweetest Day by a candy company, though, is only tenuous.
The Sweetest Day is one of those Midwestern US holidays that has yet to take a national or global hold. The roots of the Sweetest Day are found in Cleveland, Ohio. One Saturday in October, 1921, a candy shop employee, Herbert Birch Kingston distributed some small packages of gifts and candy to people who had fallen on difficult times.
Kingston was particularly concerned about orphans and shut-ins. His idea was simply the humanitarian desire to brighten their day with a small token. He did not seek any publicity. With the help of some friends, Kingston distributed the gifts to the underprivileged of Cleveland.
The next year, the Sweetest Day became widely promoted. A committee of twelve candymakers, headed by entrepreneur C.C. Hartzell planned a more aggressive approach. The commemoration became blatantly commercial.
Movie actress, Ann Pennington, who had starred in many popular films of the era, decided to express gratitude to 2,200 newspaper boys for their service to the public. Not to be outdone, another actress, Theda Bara, later gave away some 10,000 boxes of candy to Cleveland hospital patients and to her fans who attended a screening at one of the city’s
Promoters in other cities eventually caught wind of the idea and tried their own events. An association of candy manufacturers attempted a national candy day in 1927. The “New York Times” reported that the week, beginning on October 10, 1927, would be called the “Sweetest Week”. Ten years later, the National Confectioners Association promoted the idea to have the Sweetest Day recognized with the same ranking as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day.
In 1940, over 10,000 boxes of sweets were distributed by the Sweetest Day Committee to local charities. They included the “Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children”. The “Big Sister” groups in New York were also targeted.
As the Sweetest Day moved westward, other candymakers hopped onto the bandwagon. Sander’s Candy of Michigan became a major supporter of the holiday. In addition, a romantic theme evolved. The concept expanded to include gift giving to lovers, friends, and family. The promotion now features heart-shaped boxes and greeting cards designed for the locations that the Sweetest Day is most popular.
Because the Sweetest Day was co-opted by retailers, many people criticize the holiday and others like it, as so-called “Hallmark Holidays”. Others ignore the commercial implications and celebrate the day in the same spirit as Herbert Kingston envisioned it.
This is a perfect day to remember shut-ins, needy families, children, and other disadvantaged people. We don’t need to limit ourselves to candy and cards. Today is a good day to perform some random acts of kindness.